Finalists Revealed For Prestigious 4th Annual Library Of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize For Film

EXCLUSIVE: Six finalists were announced today for the richest prize in documentary film—the 4th Annual Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film.

A grant of $200,000 will go to the winning film to support final production, distribution and marketing of the documentary. In addition, a runner-up will receive $50,000, and up to four finalists will earn a $25,000 grant. The Better Angels Society, the Library of Congress, and the Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation established the award in 2019 to recognize “one late-stage documentary that uses original research and compelling narrative to tell stories that bring American history to life using archival materials.”

Among the finalists are Bella, a film about the late New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug; Philly on Fire, a film about the infamous MOVE bombing in 1985, in which Philadelphia police dropped two explosive devices onto a row of buildings occupied by a controversial African American group, killing 11 people including six children, and Imagining the Indian: The Fight Against Native American Mascoting, “about the use of Native American names, logos, and mascots in sports and beyond, which has had damaging effects on the self-esteem of Native people.” [see full list below].

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“The six finalists will be reviewed and narrowed down to the top two submissions by the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film Jury,” according to a release. This year’s Jury includes Dr. Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, Dr. Annette Gordon-Reed of Harvard University; Dr. Claudio Saunt of the University of Georgia, and filmmakers Sam Pollard, Dawn Porter, and Sally Rosenthal.

Dr. Hayden, in consultation with Ken Burns, will then select the winning film, with the winner announced in the fall at a ceremony attended by members of Congress and special guests to be announced. Previous winners include Gradually, Then Suddenly: The Bankruptcy of Detroit (2021), Hold Your Fire (2020), and Flannery (2019).

“A wide array of late-stage professional American history documentary films were submitted for consideration this year by an internal committee comprised of filmmakers from Florentine Films and expert staff from the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, the Library of Congress’ state-of-the-art moving image and recorded sound preservation facility, reviewed the submissions,” a release noted.

These are the final six contenders for the 4th annual Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film:

BELLA, directed by Jeff L. Lieberman

In 1970, Bella Abzug entered Congress ready for a fight. With her trademark hat and Bronx swagger, the first elected Feminist upended the Washington patriarchy, battling for women’s equality, civil rights, and LGBTQ+ protections. Despite Nixon and the FBI’s attempts to silence her, Bella persisted – revolutionizing the blueprint for America.

CANNABIS BUYERS CLUB, directed by Kip Andersen and Chris O’Connell

Cannabis Buyers Club tells the unknown story of the most important LGBTQ+ rights struggle of the 20th century. How a neglected group of people suffering the horrors of the AIDS pandemic in San Francisco were led by a Gay Vietnam Vet/renegade pot dealer to legalize medical marijuana.

PHILLY ON FIRE, directed by Ross Hockrow and Tommy Walker

On May 13, 1985, the Philadelphia Police dropped a bomb on a row house, burning down an entire neighborhood. 11 people died, five of them children. 61 homes were destroyed, 250 people became homeless. How could this have happened?


Imagining the Indian: The Fight Against Native American Mascoting aims to inform and educate about the use of Native American names, logos, and mascots in sports and beyond, which has had damaging effects on the self-esteem of Native people. It is a comprehensive examination of the long-standing movement against mascoting.

RAYMOND LEWIS: L.A. LEGEND, directed by Ryan Polomski (Dean Prator, Co-Director)

Raymond Lewis: L.A. Legend tells the true story of the mythical basketball phenom from Watts, California — who many say was blackballed from the NBA in the early 70’s for demanding equality — and the never-told-before tale of his unlikely and heartbreaking journey towards becoming a hoops legend.


Dubbed “father of American music” by Aaron Copland, composer/critic Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) is largely unknown to the public. This biography, featuring new and archival music performances, establishes Thomson’s originality, versatility and influence not only as creator of the American classical sound but as an insightful critic of our cultural scene.

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